David Clark not doing interviews despite assurances from Ardern and Robertson

Minister of Health David Clark was a no show on Q+A today and has refused other requests for interviews despite the Prime Minister and Grant Robertson claiming he is always available (and knowing he is refusing).

On Thursday Stuff reported Robertson as saying “He’s available to front anytime”.

But as Jack Tame pointed out he reneged on a scheduled Q+A interview for today so wasn’t always available as stated. RNZ Live referred to it as “a no show’.

Also from RNZ Live:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was grilled by journalists as to why Health Minister David Clark has declined some interviews this weekend. She said others had fronted, he was at home at lockdown and he would continue to be available for interviews.

Tova O’Brien reported:

Dr Clark refused Newshub’s repeated requests for an interview, instead sending a short statement.

So according to Robertson and Ardern, Clark is “available to front any time” and “would continue to be available for interviews”, but according to journalists he isn’t.

The Minister of Health, during the biggest health crisis for decades, is remote from the centre of Government and Ministry of Health activity (working from home in Dunedin) and is not giving interviews despite the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance saying he is available (but knowing he isn’t doing interviews).

Something is obviously not right here. Actually probably three things, Ardern, Robertson, and Clark’s application to his job.

It looks like journalists are onto the Missing In Action issue now.

Q+A: Winston Peters

From NZ Q and A last night: acting Prime Minister Winston Peters ‘having the time of his life’

1 News: Winston Peters tells Q+A’s Corin Dann Jacinda Ardern likely to take back reigns as PM this Thursday

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will likely be back on deck in the top job this Thursday, after nearly six weeks of maternity leave following the birth of baby Neve.

Acting PM Winston Peters told TVNZ’s Q+A last night he will be leaving the country on Thursday to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“Jacinda Ardern, yes on Thursday, as the plane leaves the ground,” Mr Peters said of Ms Ardern returning

Hehir: ‘he didn’t give much of an answer about anything’

Nation: Nigel Farage interview

Nigel Farage has been controversial in the UK, especially in relation to Brexit.

He will visit New Zealand in September: Nigel Farage coming to Auckland

Nigel Farage, the politician who led the successful Brexit campaign in the UK, is coming to Auckland in September as part of an Australasian tour.

The former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) will be on his An Entertaining Evening With Nigel Faragespeaking tour. Ticket prices start at $49 for students, while general admission is $89, then it’s $295 for a meet/greet ticket, and $495 for a backstage pass.

A promotional email from Australian celebrity management organisation Markson Sparks described Farage as the “world’s most charismatic politician”, who “changed the world of politics as we know it”.

An odd item from Newshub yesterday: Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage forced to deny he dyed his hair to emulate Trump

Newshub Nation today:

This is the civility argument, at least to some degree. The Left can call him a monster but that’s not what many people will see. And that then means those people are then attracted to him.

Ardern does more homely interviews

Reinforcing her image as a celebrity focussed politician, Jacinda Ardern has struggled with a number of real issues over the last fortnight, but has managed to find the time for magazine type interviews.

Amanda Hooton really lays it on in 48 hours with Jacinda: warm, earnest, accessible – is our PM too good to be true?

She spends the next 10 minutes doing a series of unscripted, perfect-first-time clips for social media. Then, obviously changing her mind, she pulls her dark floral shift dress off.

She’s wearing a modest black slip underneath, but still, I’m glad I’m not Charles Wooley. She puts on the pink T-shirt, then records a welcome to Splore. Smiling into the camera, she apologises that she can’t be present in person, and says she’s looking forward to seeing someone dressing up “in a brown wig, Labour rosette and pregnancy gut”.

So, fruit juice, partial strip, self-parody. We’ve seen and heard a great deal about Ardern since she became prime minister last October, but clearly, there’s more to the world’s youngest elected head of government (until she was pipped by the new 31-year-old Austrian chancellor in December) than meets the eye.

Let’s not forget that Ardern performed a political miracle last October. Amid an international climate of disastrous defeats for social democratic politics – the US, UK, France, and Italy have all rejected their centre-left parties in the past 18 months alone – this 37-year-old woman led the Labour party to victory after almost a decade in the political wilderness, having taken over the leadership less than eight weeks earlier.

…[lengthy puff piece]…

ime will tell whether she has the political intelligence, endurance and luck to navigate this; if she has the ability to lead the nation safely through the shoal waters of 21st century politics.

Still, in a world in which we’re increasingly expected to accept alternative facts, and indefinite strongman rule, and threatening, isolationist policies from world leaders, it’s nice to be offered something – and someone – different to believe in. As Ardern puts it, barefoot in her modest house: “I don’t think too much about the magnitude of the job.

I just immediately skip to, ‘Let’s get the plan going.'”

And in perparation for her frist trip as PM to England Ardern features in the Guardian’s Jacinda Ardern on life as a leader, Trump and selfies in the lingerie department

It’s just gone lunchtime in New Zealand’s largest city and Jacinda Ardern arrives at her two-bedroom suburban home after a primary school meet and greet.

The 37-year-old prime minister of New Zealand and poster woman of progressive politics is sitting in the passenger seat of a blue Subaru, craving a muesli bar and wearing woollen shoes that look like slippers.

This time last year Ardern was known as a young opposition MP with a passion for eradicating child poverty – in fact she could rather bang on about it. She had a well-stocked whisky cabinet, frequently popped up at music gigs, and would return journalists’ phone calls within minutes, at pretty much any hour of the day or night.

Fast forward and Ardern is now the leader of the country, six months pregnant and seeking advice on how to juggle milk bottles and briefings from Barack Obama.

And struggling to deal with a cranky Foreign Minister with his own agenda, Young Labour camps, an MP from a a coalition partner party threatening an opposition MP, defending a Minister responsible for the resignation of a popular journalist, and stuffing around while allies take strong action over the alleged Russian poisoning scandal.

Fast forward to the end of the article.

Ardern appears to envision an increasingly independent country – contemplating a possible break from the motherland, seeking a louder voice on the world stage, and embracing New Zealand’s unique Pacific history and identity.

“On major issues, on things like climate change, or even nuclear issues, our view has been, and should be important,” she says. “[I’ve] never felt that diminished New Zealand’s view just because we are small and geographically isolated.

“I think our approach to life is the same approach in politics. We’re a very pragmatic people, perhaps because of our isolation, we tend to be pretty inventive as well. We’re not ones to say something is too hard, so when we’re confronted with challenges, be they big or small, we tend to tackle them head on, and without much question – we just get on with it.”

Ardern has been pretty inventive when it comes to getting celebrity style magazine publicity, but there are already serious doubts about her handling of hard issues.

“We just get on with it” may look like a good sound bite, but Ardern and her government have a long way to go to prove that they can walk the talk.

Ardern interview on Russia

From an interview of Jacinda Ardern on Q & A:

Was it Russia?

Jacinda Ardern: Corin, I’ve been very clear in avoiding saying it was Russia.

But that doesn’t…will you actually say that Russia is responsible?

Jacinda Ardern: We are in exactly the same position as our allies, we stood up in the Hague and avoided saying it was Russia. We have been clear in our statements on this that we’re avoiding saying it was Russia. We’ve made sure the UK is clear on our position as well that we’re avoiding saying it was Russia.

Will you consider sanctions?

Jacinda Ardern: That’s something that we’re avoiding saying.

So you’re not ruling out the possibility of sanctions?

Jacinda Ardern: This is the purpose of why we’re staying in touch. We’re not ruling anything in or out. We are unequivocally equivocal.

If you consider Russia is responsible, why are you talking about a free trade deal?

Jacinda Ardern: We talk a lot. All the time. Many conversations.

So are we not doing a free trade deal with them? Winston says we are.

Jacinda Ardern: As I’ve pointed out in recent times and as He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named himself says, we’re avoiding saying we’re not doing a free trade deal with them and hinting that we will in the future.

So because of the attack you will not now do a free trade deal with Russia?

Jacinda Ardern: We’ll avoid saying that we won’t and hint that we will in the future.

Why was a Russia deal even in the coalition agreement?

Jacinda Ardern: At this point I’ll blither a bit and end it by avoiding saying it was Russia. Ask another question.

You said that Values were going to be a driving force in how you make your decisions. Why’d you put Russia in the coalition agreement?

Jacinda Ardern: We’re still going to obey the letter of the sanctions. We can just work around them.

The point is that that’s not the same as taking a principled stand. The Nats wanted an FTA – it didn’t want to put it on hold but it did, because of the whole principled stand and Values thing. You on the other hand agreed in the coalition agreement to put it back on the table.

Jacinda Ardern: I have to correct you there. They put the FTA on ice and applied travel sanctions but there was still trade. No-one has said that we would not apply the sanctions, but we’ll do the still trading bit and put the FTA back in the oven. The coalition agreement says “striving towards”. Here this means we’re sort-of not really maybe reheating it. Because we stand alongside our partners.

So you’re not saying they’re completely off the table? Or maybe you are saying that? It’s got me fucked.

Jacinda Ardern: Right now, I’m avoiding saying either way. Or both ways.

You would have heard the UK going WTF? Which is it?

Jacinda Ardern: The only point that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named made is one that I will now describe as immaterial. I am here to make the point that I am avoiding saying it was Russia.

Are we prepared to sacrifice EU/UK trade deals to flirt with Russia?

Jacinda Ardern: I’ve consistently said that we say we prioritise the EU agreement but we don’t name them in the coalition agreement. Just Russia. Who we’re avoiding saying an FTA is off the table with. When we named Russia in the coalition agreement, and didn’t name the EU in that agreement we were not thinking at all about Russia. We were totally focused on the EU. We had not officially resumed FTA talks with Russia, just unofficially. And now I’m telling you we will hint about resuming them in the indeterminate future.

Have you spoken to Winston Peters ever about why he’s pumping for a Russia FTA? Especially when he always votes against FTAs? Did you ask? It seems very odd that Russia is specifically singled out as the one to spoon.

Jacinda Ardern: I’m very clear on the fact that he didn’t tell me a thing and in fact we haven’t even spoken at all in the past week so I’ll talk about fairness. Of course, I’ll avoid saying it was Russia.

Who sets foreign policy in your government?

Jacinda Ardern: Aah..errr…Wi..thee…Us! Collectively! Of course both of he-who-shall-not-be-named have a role to play. And myself. I’m playing a role now.

Winston’s staying all sorts of stuff that’s completely out of sync with you lot.

Jacinda Ardern: I would dispute that. The language has all involved double meanings so we can interpret it in a way that suits us and the Values we work around. Rather like the phrase “flying Emirates”. We have all consistently avoided saying Russia did it.

Winston’s been less hinty that it was the Russians than you.

Jacinda Ardern: At this point I would like to hint some more, without actually saying the Russians did it. That’s a simple statement of fact. Hope this clarifies.

From Full interview: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sits down with Corin Dann after a challenging week for her leadership – by Oligosomanigripnata, headed “A bit of paraphrasing” (as should have quickly become obvious).

The Peters-Espiner interview

Guyon Espiner interviewed Winston Peters on RNZ this morning. It was widely regarded as not very flattering of Peters. Perhaps staunch supporters still think he’s got what it takes but it raises serious doubts of his capabilities.

RNZ link: The Leader Interview – Winston Peters

A $3 billion costing for New Zealand First’s policy to remove GST from basic food was a mistake, Winston Peters has told Morning Report.

Mr Peters said his party’s policies were costed at $10bn over seven or eight years, he said.

Taking GST off basic food would be $600-700 million, he said, and the mention of $3bn on the party’s website was a mistake by someone in his team.

“In fact I had a discussion with my team just about two days ago about correcting that,” he said. “Parties make mistakes and in this case it’s been corrected, it should have been corrected.”

The NZ First website had clearly showed GST would come off food with no mention of ‘basic food’.

The party would leave it to a group of ordinary men and women to decide what foods would be considered basic, though Mr Peters said bread would be on the list, but chips and biscuits would not.

This flatters Peters.

The best coverage is from The Spinoff with transcripts: ‘Words do mean things’: Highlights from Guyon Espiner’s brutal interview with Winston Peters

Morning Report’s Guyon Espiner had been reading NZ First’s website, apparently a lot more than Winston Peters. He asked, mostly, what its content would cost. He did it over and over and Peters almost never had an answer. For a man who was, until recently, subject of semi-plausible speculation about his potential to be prime minister, he appeared astoundingly ill-informed.

Over and over Espiner honed in on what these big, blustering populisms would cost, over and over Winston dissembled and guessed (almost always incorrectly, sometimes by upwards of a $1b on a single policy).

But the interview became an instant classic less for what Winston didn’t know and more for the pure entertainment value it contained.

I wouldn’t call it entertainment when that is how someone who could decide who runs the next government performs. Peters was embarrassing.

Trump on torture

Donald Trump has reiterated his support of torture and his belief that it works: In an ABC interview he said “Do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it work.” But he also said he would defer to his Defense Secretary and CIA Director.

Trump says he’ll defer to Mattis and Pompeo on waterboarding

“Do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works,” Trump told ABC News’ David Muir in an excerpt of an interview that will broadcast Wednesday evening.

Trump said he has asked the “people at the highest level of intelligence” within the past 24 hours if waterboarding and other forms of torture work. “And the answer was yes, absolutely,” Trump recalled.

He took a firm stance on defending the country from terrorism during the interview, insisting that he wants to keep America safe and when the Islamic State is chopping off the heads of Christians in the Middle East, the U.S. has to “fight fire with fire.”

But he also said he would defer to Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. “I’m going with General Mattis. I’m going with my secretary,” he told Muir. “Because I think Pompeo’s gonna be phenomenal. I’m gonna go with that they say.”

New York Times: Trump Poised to Lift Ban on C.I.A. ‘Black Site’ Prisons

The Trump administration is preparing a sweeping executive order that would clear the way for the C.I.A. to reopen overseas “black site” prisons, like those where it detained and tortured terrorism suspects before former President Barack Obama shut them down.

President Trump’s three-page draft order, titled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants” and obtained by The New York Times, would also undo many of the other restrictions on handling detainees that Mr. Obama put in place in response to policies of the George W. Bush administration.

If Mr. Trump signs the draft order, he would also revoke Mr. Obama’s directive to give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees in American custody. That would be another step toward reopening secret prisons outside of the normal wartime rules established by the Geneva Conventions, although statutory obstacles would remain.

The draft order does not direct any immediate reopening of C.I.A. prisons or revival of torture tactics, which are now banned by statute. But it sets up high-level policy reviews to make further recommendations in both areas to Mr. Trump, who vowed during the campaign to bring back waterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse” — not only because “torture works,” but because even “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.”

As well as being abhorrent torture is widely regarded as immoral and largely ineffective.

Politico reports Mattis, Pompeo stunned by CIA ‘black sites’ report

The two officials in charge of Trump’s terrorism detainee policies were ‘blindsided’ by a draft calling for the CIA to revisit techniques critics call torture.

Two of the officials who will be in charge of carrying out President Donald Trump’s terrorism detainee policies, Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, were “blindsided” by reports of a draft executive order that would require the CIA to reconsider using interrogation techniques that some consider torture, according to sources with knowledge of their thinking.

Lawmakers in both parties denounced the draft order on Wednesday even as White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he had “no idea where it came from” and that it is “not a White House document.”

Interview transcript:

DAVID MUIR: Let me ask you about a new report that you were poised to lift a ban on so-called CIA black sites of prisons around the world that have been used in the past. Is that true?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I’ll be talking about that in about two hours. So, you’ll be there and you’ll be able to see it for yourself.

DAVID MUIR: Are you gonna lift the ban?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You’re gonna see in about two hours.

DAVID MUIR: The last president, President Obama, said the U.S. does not torture. Will you say that?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I have a general who I have great respect for, General Mattis, who said — I was a little surprised — who said he’s not a believer in torture. As you know, Mr. Pompeo was just approved, affirmed by the Senate. He’s a fantastic guy, he’s gonna be the head of the CIA.

And you have somebody fabulous as opposed to the character that just got out who didn’t — was not fabulous at all. And he will I think do a great job. And he is — you know, I haven’t gone into great detail. But I will tell you I have spoken to others in intelligence. And they are big believers in, as an example, waterboarding.

DAVID MUIR: You did tell me …


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Because they say it does work. It does work.

DAVID MUIR: Mr. President, you …


DAVID MUIR: Mr. President, you told me during one of the debates that you would bring back waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse.



PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would do — I wanna keep our country safe. I wanna keep our country safe.

DAVID MUIR: What does that mean?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: When they’re shooting — when they’re chopping off the heads of our people and other people, when they’re chopping off the heads of people because they happen to be a Christian in the Middle East, when ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since Medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding?

As far as I’m concerned we have to fight fire with fire. Now, with that being said I’m going with General Mattis. I’m going with my secretary because I think Pompeo’s gonna be phenomenal. I’m gonna go with what they say. But I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence. And I asked them the question, “Does it work? Does torture work?” And the answer was, “Yes, absolutely.”

DAVID MUIR: You’re now the president. Do you want waterboarding?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don’t want people to chop off the citizens or anybody’s heads in the Middle East. Okay? Because they’re Christian or Muslim or anything else. I don’t want — look, you are old enough to have seen a time that was much different. You never saw heads chopped off until a few years ago.

Now they chop ’em off and they put ’em on camera and they send ’em all over the world. So we have that and we’re not allowed to do anything. We’re not playing on an even field. I will say this, I will rely on Pompeo and Mattis and my group. And if they don’t wanna do, that’s fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work for that end.

I wanna do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally. But do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works. Have I spoken to people at the top levels and people that have seen it work? I haven’t seen it work. But I think it works. Have I spoken to people that feel strongly about it? Absolutely.

DAVID MUIR: So, you’d be okay with it as …

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I wanna keep …

DAVID MUIR: … president?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: … no, I wanna — I will rely on General Mattis. And I’m gonna rely on those two people and others. And if they don’t wanna do it, it’s 100 percent okay with me. Do I think it works? Absolutely.


Pilger interview with Assange

RT has video and a transcript of the John Pilger interview with Julian Assange.

  • ‘Clinton made FBI look weak, now there is anger’

“The FBI is always trying to demonstrate that no-one can resist us.  But Hillary Clinton very conspicuously resisted the FBI’s investigation, so there’s anger within the FBI because it made the FBI look weak. ”

  • ‘Russian government not the source of Clinton leaks’

“Hilary Clinton stated multiple times, falsely, that seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia was the source of our publications. That is false; we can say that the Russian government is not the source. ”

  • ‘Saudi Arabia & Qatar funding ISIS and Clinton’

“There’s an early 2014 email from Hillary Clinton, not so long after she left the State Department, to her campaign manager John Podesta that states ISIL is funded by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Now this is the most significant email in the whole collection, and perhaps because Saudi and Qatari money is spread all over the Clinton Foundation.”

  • ‘Clinton has been eaten alive by her ambition’

“I see someone who is eaten alive by their ambitions,  tormented literally to the point where they become sick; they faint as a result of [the reaction] to their ambitions.”

That’s an odd claim.

“She’s a centralising cog. You’ve got a lot of different gears in operation from the big banks like Goldman Sachs and major elements of Wall Street, and Intelligence and people in the State Department and the Saudis.”

  • ‘Libya is Hillary Clinton’s war’

“Who was the person championing it?  Hillary Clinton.  That’s documented throughout her emails.She perceived the removal of Gaddafi and the overthrow of the Libyan state — something that she would use in her run-up to the general election for President.”

  • ‘Trump won’t be permitted to win’

“Why do I say that?  Because he’s had every establishment off side; Trump doesn’t have one establishment, maybe with the exception of the Evangelicals, if you can call them an establishment, but banks, intelligence [agencies], arms companies… big foreign money … are all united behind Hillary Clinton, and the media as well, media owners and even journalists themselves.”

But he is in the race in a closely contested election. It’s not about permission of ‘the establishment, it’s about permission of a majority of voters (via electoral college votes).

  • Do you yourself take a view of the U.S. election?  Do you have a preference for Clinton or Trump?

” …he so clearly — through his words and actions and the type of people that turn up at his rallies — represents people who are not the middle, not the upper middle educated class, there is a fear of seeming to be associated in any way with them, a social fear that lowers the class status of anyone who can be accused of somehow assisting Trump in any way, including any criticism of Hillary Clinton. If you look at how the middle class gains its economic and social power, that makes absolute sense.”

An indirect answer that appears to be anti ‘the middle class’.

  • ‘US attempting to squeeze WikiLeaks through my refugee status’

“Now there’s undercover police and there are robot surveillance cameras of various kinds — so that there has been quite a serious conflict right here in the heart of London between Ecuador, a country of sixteen million people, and the United Kingdom, and the Americans who have been helping on the side.”

“[It means] that [they] are trying to get at a publishing organisation; [they] try and prevent it from publishing true information that is of intense interest to the American people and others about an election.”

  • ‘I am innocent and in arbitrary detention’

“[So it’s] me and the U.N. verses Sweden and the U.K.  Who’s right?  The U.N. made a conclusion that I am being arbitrarily detained illegally, deprived of my freedom and that what has occurred has not occurred within the laws that the United Kingdom and Sweden, and that [those countries] must obey. It is an illegal abuse. ”

“Here we have a case, the Swedish case, where I have never been charged with a crime, where I have already been cleared [by the Stockholm prosecutor] and found to be innocent, where the woman herself said that the police made it up, where the United Nations formally said the whole thing is illegal, where the State of Ecuador also investigated and found that I should be given asylum.”

RT: Assange: Clinton is a cog for Goldman Sachs & the Saudis (JOHN PILGER EXCLUSIVE VIDEO & TRANSCRIPT)

Bill English interview

Lisa Own interviewed Finance Minister Bill English about the budget on The Nation yesterday.

English will also be interviewed on Q & A this morning at 9 am.

The Nation interview will be repeated after Q & A at 10:00 am Sunday but here is the interview online:

Interview: Bill English

Lisa Owen talks to Finance Minister Bill English about whether this week’s Budget keeps up with demographics in health and education, why there was nothing for housing, and if there’ll be tax cuts in 2017.

On Twitter they described it:

‘s feisty interview with  

Transcript (provided via Newshub by able.co.nz):

Lisa Owen: Well, Bill English’s eighth budget has delivered the government books back into black, and confident projections for more surpluses and growth. ‘Steady as she goes,’ he says. But the sceptics called it the buffet budget — morsels here and there ahead of the full spread in election year. And Winston Peters bluntly labelled it the ‘get stuffed’ budget. Notably, there was little for infrastructure, Auckland’s housing woes or those people living in cars and garages. So when I spoke to the finance minister earlier, I asked if his emphasis on prudence and stability wasn’t a little tone-deaf.

Bill English: No, I disagree with that. Look, the budget was never going to be the vehicle for fixing every housing problem, because you can’t buy your way through the Auckland housing pressures. We’ve been through all this in Christchurch, where the problem has now been largely solved. It takes time. And so the important work that’s related to housing is about getting the national policy statement out in the next few weeks, getting the Auckland Unitary Plan right, because the people that are sleeping in the cars are the victims of years of misdirected planning…

Yes, but you’ve had eight years.

…that’s focused on high-value housing.

You’ve had eight years, Minister.

Yes, but we don’t make the decisions, Lisa. Auckland City Council make the decisions. Even the government can’t build a house in Auckland unless Auckland City Council frees up the land, provides the subdivision consent, processes all the consents, provides the building consent and allows the house to be occupied.

All right. I want to come back to that a bit later. But, as promised, you brought forward spending from the 2017 budget to keep pace with immigration. So are we getting as much per person in health and education?

Yes, we probably are, but the amount of money that’s spent is less important than what results it gets. You know, there’s some people trying to argue that you show you care by shovelling more and more money out. And the history of that in government is that you can shovel out a whole lot of money and make no difference whatsoever. So the budget’s got a pretty strong focus on results, including in health, where the money goes, for instance, to the roll-out of the bowel cancer screening programme, which when it’s up and running will screen 350,000 people on average each year.

Point taken, Minister, but I just want to be clear on this, because if you look at the figures, let’s say for health, a variety of economists say that we needed about 700 million a year just to keep pace, yet health is getting about 570 million a year. You’ve frozen the schools’ operational budgets, so to be absolutely clear, per capita spending on health and education, it’s down, isn’t it?

No. Look, I couldn’t say for sure whether it’s up or down. It’s probably about the same. The point I’m making is it’s the wrong measure. The measures that matter are the ones that are about focusing on getting results.

Shouldn’t you know whether it’s up or down in terms of spending per capita? Because that’s something that our viewers will want to know.

It’s not a measure we apply. And I think your viewers are as interested in— probably more interested in the results we get for them. For instance, in education, we have targeted the spending on the 150,000 children who are most at risk of educational underachievement. Now, per capita, I can’t tell you whether it’s up or down. What I do know is for children from benefit-dependent households, there will be $80 per child of those in our schools. And they’re spread right through our schools, regardless of decile. So that’s trying to focus the resource where it’s going to have the most impact.

This kind of takes us back to where I started here — the people in the cars, the first-home buyers who are locked out of the Auckland market, Auckland infrastructure. People will look at this and think that you are effectively asking those people to hold tight for at least another year so that you can afford to give tax cuts.

No, that’s not the case. For instance, for the cases that have been in the media around living in the cars, a lot of those are a bit more complex than people might realise. But in any case, we have more money than we can spend on places, on houses for people in serious housing need in Auckland. The problem isn’t money; there’s enough of that. The problem is getting enough houses. Even though Auckland City is actually completing 40 houses every working day, it’s still not enough. And that’s why in the next few months we’ve got to work hard with the Auckland City Council to get more houses, because the government can’t just magic up houses; they have to be built by real people on real land. And that’s controlled by the Auckland City Council.

Well, actually, let’s look at that. The problem, you’ve said, is a huge supply shortage, isn’t it? So is that shortage getting better or worse?

Well, it depends. There’s some signs that demand might have flattened out a bit, because it’s all supply relative to demand. But in terms of the supply itself, I don’t think it’s getting worse. We’re just focusing on working with the council and doing what the government can with its own land to ramp up the supply, because we know Auckland needs more, and it needs it faster than we’re able to deliver it.

Okay, well, just let’s look at some of those figures. I mean, experts can’t agree exactly, but they think that we’re down about between 20,000 and 50,000 houses in Auckland — we’re short of those — and that we need to build about 13,000 a year to play catch-up. We’re not building 13,000 a year, so the supply must be getting worse.

Well, and that’s in the hands of the Auckland City Council, who are the people with the legal and community responsibility to get more land available so that more houses can be built faster. We’ve been through this in Christchurch. You can ramp up the construction workforce. You can change the planning rules. In Christchurch, house prices are flat to slightly falling, despite the fact that two or three years ago there was very substantial demand. And I might say the same kind of stories about it. Now, there was a lot of tension at the time in Christchurch as the system cranked up supply to meet the strong demand.

The thing is you point the finger at the council there, but the council has been very clear about the fact it needs help with infrastructure. it says it needs 3 billion in the next 10 years for infrastructure. Where do you think that money’s coming from? Because the council’s nudging its debt ceiling. It can’t rate people off their properties. So where is the money coming from?

Well, fundamentally, that’s Auckland’s issue to deal with. We are certainly contributing. I mean, right now we’re in intensive negotiation for a contribution of over $1 billion from the taxpayer to an Auckland City Council transport project called the Central Rail Link. Now, in the normal course of events, they would pay for that. We’re negotiating where taxpayers will pay for that. That’s a significant reduction in the burden on the council, and it allows them to pay for other infrastructure.

Minister, isn’t it central government’s responsibility to assist with that infrastructure?

No, fundamentally it isn’t. It is the council’s responsibility. That’s the deal. They get to decide on how their city is planned, and they get to pay for the development. And for a lot of the people living outside Auckland and inside Auckland, there are real benefits from growth. And part of the puzzle here is that as more people turn up in Auckland and as incomes rise, growth is good. The council benefits from that, and so do ratepayers. And so they’ve just got to work out a better alignment between the funding and the growth.

In terms of that better alignment between funding and growth, then surely when you come up with the national policy statement in a few weeks’ time, it has to make some kind of allowance for the council to raise money, using a congestion charge or something similar.

The government generally keeps out of their way, and generally councils don’t want government interfering with how they run their affairs. The national policy statement won’t cover all the issues. It’ll focus on primarily…

But you are interfering, aren’t you? You’re going to make a national policy statement that lays down the law. They want some kind of levies or taxes. They’re not allowed to do that. So you are interfering.

Well, there will be a discussion from the national policy statement as it goes out. As I’ve said in the Budget, it’ll be more directive to councils to enhance supply, bearing in mind that in Auckland they spent a lot of years trying not to grow supply, and that’s the price—the people who pay the price for 20 years’ misdirected planning are the low and middle-income families whose stress you are seeing represented in the media. That’s who misses out – not the high-income people. They can afford to pay for the nicest looking apartments and the nicest looking streets. But low- and middle-income families can’t.

All right. Well, I want to talk about the story that we broke on The Nation about homelessness. In Auckland, every social agency that we went to about that story told us that emergency housing is full. Did you know that? Did you know it’s full?

Well, that is why there has been a package announced a few weeks ago to underpin the funding of emergency housing – about $40 million – so that we can get more emergency housing in places around the country.

Yes, but that doesn’t add new places, though, does it? Sorry, I’m just wanting to establish whether you knew when that story went out. Did you know that emergency housing was full up?

Yes. We’ve known about housing stress in Auckland for a number of years. It’s why the government has made some very direct statements about the obligations of the city council to change the planning rules to enable more supply so we can get more houses. That is the only way people who aren’t in houses can get in houses is when a house gets built. The only people who can agree to get that house built are Auckland City Council. We provide subsidies. The government provides 2 billion of subsidies a year. We subsidise 60 percent of all rentals in the country and probably more than that in Auckland. We’re putting up the money. They have to put up the land and the houses.

Minister, in terms of the emergency housing, I just want to be clear on this. Social agencies told us about a year ago that those places were under stress and now they are full up. Do you know the difference between under stress and full up? Did you appreciate that change in climate?

Yes. That is why the package was announced, actually, a number of weeks before you apparently broke the story – the story that has been sitting there for a couple of years. That is why the package was announced – because of stress on the emergency housing. And we put in 40 million. Emergency housing’s been a bit of a dog’s breakfast for decades. We worked a way with the agencies over quite a long period of time – very good work done by Paula Bennett – to work out how to make it more effective. And that’s why the package was announced.

So why didn’t you do more? If you’ve known all along that this is the issue, why not do more? Because that package doesn’t add new places. Why not do something more in the Budget?

It will add new places. We put in quite a bit of money. The agencies get to use that money, and we’ll see how it beds down. And if more is required, we would do that. But it is only a short-term fix, because you can’t put people in houses that don’t exist.

But don’t you think from what we’ve seen, it absolutely is required? You seem to be questioning whether it is needed.

No, I’m not questioning that. We’ve taken a big step to organise emergency housing so it’s more effective, to sort out the funding, make it clearer, more transparent and a lot bigger.

So more is needed? More is absolutely needed, Minister. Is that what you’re saying?

Well, it could be. We can’t fund houses that aren’t there.

‘Could be’ or ‘is’? ‘Could be’ or ‘is’ needed?

Well, look, we put in the money. I’m sure that in six months’ time, there will still be people who have significant housing problems. Some of those will be able to be directed to social housing. Some of them will explain the full stories of their lives which aren’t always explained to the media in the way that they’re represented. And some of them will be really genuine cases who need more emergency housing, and if that’s the case, then we have the capacity to respond. But bear in mind, when we pay for more emergency housing, we’re probably using houses that would otherwise be available for social housing. And when we pay for more social housing, we could be using houses that would otherwise be bought by first-home buyers. The answer to all that is more houses on the ground faster, otherwise we’re all competing with each other for a limited supply of houses.

All right. Well, I want to look at you’re choosing to pay down debt rather than borrow, and you’re choosing to do that rather than build at a time when money is the cheapest it has ever been. Can you just explain the logic of that to me?

Well, if you looked at the Budget charts, you would see that in fact our infrastructure spend in 2017 is double what it was in 2013. So it’s a myth—

But it’s down, though, Minister. It’s down. Your spending on infrastructure is down from 1.7 billion to 1.4 billion.

No, it’s not. Look at the charts. In 2013, it was 3 billion. In 2017, it’s 6 billion. That’s double.

Looking ahead, Minister, it’s down.

Well, it peaks in 2017. We don’t do it because economists say money’s cheap. In fact, I listened to a banker this morning say this is the time to pay off debt.

But that’s the point, isn’t it, Minister? Why are you cutting? Why are you cutting back on infrastructure?

We are not cutting, Lisa. There is no evidence of cutting. I mean, I’m involved in the decision-making. The capital allowance this year is about a billion higher than last year. The total spend on the ground is double what it was in 2013. Whoever’s telling you it’s being cut is simply wrong.

You’re saying it’s peaking in 2017 and then tapering off.

Well, there’s further decisions to be made. It may keep going after that. We’ve put out the forecast for how much will actually be spent on the ground over the next five years. Next year we get to make another whole set of decisions about where to spend the next billion or so. But there’s no evidence of cutting infrastructure spending. You’re simply wrong.

Okay. Well, I want to look ahead to next year. You’ve made a virtue out of fiscally responsible, perhaps boring Budgets. You’ve allowed yourself 1.9 billion to spend in next year’s Budget. Are you prepared to blow that spending cap to give tax cuts?

Well, the allowance that’s there for next year is – as I’ve made clear about a month ago – explicitly just for the act for spending and does not include tax reductions. So if there were tax reductions at any time over the next two or three years, that would be in addition to what we’ve allowed for government spending.

And just to be clear, any tax cuts would come in your fourth term?

Well, even if you made decisions in the Budget next year, they would occur in the next term of government, yes.

And they will only come in if you meet all your fiscal targets, yes?

Well, that’s right. We’ve got a set of fiscal targets. Now, there’s always… You never quite know what’s going to happen with the economic forecast. You might find there’s more room or less room. But those decisions are all in the future, which is why we’re not being explicit about it now, because we simply haven’t made the decisions.


Nick Smith on housing

The Nation interviewed Nick Smith on housing yesterday, this will be repeated at 10:00 am this morning.

Interview: Nick Smith

Lisa Owen talks to Housing Minister Nick Smith about Auckland’s rising garage rental market, whether new tools like loan to value ratios will work, and whether the special housing areas are actually just encouraging land banking.

Video of the full interview here


Lisa Owen: This week the Reserve Bank Governor said he’s increasingly concerned about Auckland’s property market and raised the prospect of debt-to-income ratios, meaning the less you earn, the less you can borrow. But would that make the idea of affording a house in Auckland even more of a pipe dream for many New Zealanders? Well, Housing Minister Nick Smith joins me now from Wanaka. Minister, we appreciate that you’re the Housing Minister, not the Minister for Social Housing or Social Development, but people living in garages and cars – can you answer the question in that piece? You know, as a country surely we can do better. Why aren’t we?

Nick Smith: No, of course we can, yeah, and ever having the situation of children living out of cars is unacceptable. When I saw that piece from Mike, it reminded me of the situation we had four or five years ago in Christchurch. A different scenario there in that we lost 12,000 houses from the earthquake but not dissimilar in the sense of the level of need, and that is why I’ve got confidence in the Government’s plan, both medium and long term, in that in Christchurch, growing supply has resolved those issues. For instance, rents in Christchurch over the last year have dropped by 5 percent. That is because we’ve got supply ahead of demand. Auckland is a bigger market. It’s a bigger challenge, but we need to do things short term, like the emergency houses, like the requirement for home insulation that’s in the bill, that we’ll have in the law by 1st of July, as well as those really important long-term supply questions.

Is it fair to draw the link between people paying 800,000 for the median house in Auckland and people sleeping in their cars or having to pay 400 bucks a week for a garage?

Well, they’re all part of the same symptom, and let’s go down into the core of what’s gone wrong in Auckland. Half the council is opposed to intensification and Auckland going up, the other half is opposed or historically has been to growing out and for urban sprawl, so for a decade Auckland has not built the number of houses that is required to meet the demand, and as a consequence of that, you get increasing rents, you get house prices getting up over $800,000. And that is why as a government we’ve got to pull out all stops to grow the number of houses that are being built and also trying to get the market to produce more houses that are in that affordable range, and we’ve got some programmes going in that regard that are making progress, but we have a way to go.

Well, you talk there about the council, so are you going to force them to address this, then, in some way?

Right now, I’m working on a National Policy Statement on Urban Design that will direct councils to resolve this question, and that is that they have to make provision for cities like Auckland to either grow up or out, and they can’t have this sort of dilemma where they put it in the too-hard basket; we block housing developments at the very time that we need more coming on stream. We’ve also got the crucial issue for Auckland, which is still functioning on 1993 planning documents, getting that new unitary plan in place, and that too is an incredibly important priority if we’re going to make a difference in the lives of the sort of people that you featured with Mike’s piece.

Well, we saw in that piece 25 percent rent rises in five years. What more can you do about that that you haven’t already done?

Well, of course, on the 1st of April this year our government for the first time in 40 years increased the core benefits, and I suspect that many of those people featured would have been dependent on benefits. If we look, the Government is spending actually now $2 billion a year in both the accommodation supplement and the income-related rent, and my colleague Paula Bennett is seeking additional funding which we’ll be able to talk about when the Budget is announced in a couple of weeks.

But when you talk about—

But we should not be distracted from the core issue, and that core issue is supply.

Minister, when you talk about those benefit increases, though, I think it’s about an average of $17 a week more. That’s not going to get them into a house, looking at those rents.

It is part of the solution. Remember, that’s just the increase, a specific, one-off extra increase. Like I say, the first time in 40 years that benefits have been increased over and above the rate of inflation, and that’s on top of the initiatives, the likes of the emergency housing, on top of the 300,000 homes that we have insulated, on top of the sorts of initiatives that we’ve taken in south Auckland. For instance, I’ll draw your attention to that major development at Weymouth, Waimahia, which is making progress in that very community. And you equally could have taken your cameras there and seen that development moving in pace and getting those very sorts of families into affordable and secure housing.

All right, I want to talk about the loan-to-income ratio that the Reserve Bank has been floating, this idea. Isn’t that just going to shut even more first-home buyers out of the market?

Well, the most important thing that’s shutting first-home buyers out of the market is ongoing escalation in house prices. Now, those increases were up over 20 percent 18 months ago. The latest figures are that Auckland houses over the last 12 months are up by about 13 percent. We’re not going to win the battle long term for those young families aspiring to own a home unless we can get that house price increase down into single digits. The Government’s HomeStart programme is part of helping them pool together a deposit. The Welcome Home loans that we are providing is also helping. The Government is not in a position to make any call yet about the issue that the Reserve Bank has raised, but let’s be focused. Stopping rampant house price increases is the most important thing, both for those families on your programme as well as those that are wanting to get into their first home.

All right, well, I want to talk about special housing areas. Now, these were set up to speed up building. Using your own formula, an affordable house in one of those special housing areas in Auckland is $610,000. Is that really affordable?

No. In fact, let’s be clear. The Government’s HomeStart programme sets a benchmark of $550,000.

But I’m talking about the special housing—

If you go to a development like Weymouth—

I’m talking about the special housing areas, Minister, where an affordable house is 75 percent—

Well, both Weymouth and Hobsonville are special housing areas.

But 75 percent of the median Auckland house price is what is regarded as affordable under that special housing scheme, so that is 610,000 in Auckland.

No, that’s not—

Is that affordable?

No, that is— No, it’s not, and that’s not correct. It does vary from each special housing area, and like I say, if you look at the Weymouth development, if you look at the latest announcement I made at Hobsonville with the Prime Minister, we’re looking at effectively 70 percent of those homes coming in under that $550,000 bracket, which is more in that range.

But that’s your formula, Minister, and contained in the documentation – the official documentation. That is the formula for what is considered an affordable house. That’s your formula.

No, that formula comes from the council. It varies from special housing area to special housing area. The main issue is growing the supply, including the supply of affordable houses. We were only building 10 houses per working day. We’ve got that rate up to 40 houses per working day being built in Auckland. We need to get it up more like 50 to 60 houses per working day if we are going to make that material difference to the market and get homes both in terms of supply and affordability into the right sort of bracket.

Well, that brings us to an interesting point, because land banking is a really big concern of yours. You’ve called it offensive in the past. But looking at the special housing areas, you’ve got space for approximately 48,000 houses in those special housing areas, and only 700 have been built in two and a half years – 700 complete. It looks like you’ve got people land banking in your special housing areas.

Well, let’s be clear. We’re over a thousand homes have been built and completed in those special housing areas, so your numbers are a bit out of date. But what we do need to be clear about—

That’s the latest monitoring report, Minister.

…is from the time when you—

That’s the latest monitoring report those figures are from.

Which is for the 31st. Yeah, that’s right. That’s for the 31st of December last year. That’s quite old. But let me just explain. The special housing areas is a mechanism for overriding those very old Auckland plans. From the time you plan an area, ie zone it residential, to the time that you then are able to convert that into sections, put the infrastructure in and build the houses, the experience in both Christchurch and Auckland is that is a two- to three-year pipeline. Now, at the moment in Auckland, you have got the strongest building boom that’s ever occurred in that city. In the last year we’ve had over $3 billion invested in residential housing.

I’m sorry to interrupt you, Minister, but after two and a half years, even if we take the thousand houses, you’ve still got space for 48,000 houses in those special housing areas. Doesn’t it concern you that people seem to be sitting on this land with special rights that you’ve afforded them, not building houses and laughing all the way to the bank?

No, I don’t accept that. No, I don’t accept that at all, and I ask you to take your cameras out around those special housing areas. You will see builders going mad. You will see massive amounts of earthworks occurring, and as I say, let’s go to the figures—

So a thousand is enough, Minister?

We were when we came into government—

A thousand houses in two and a half years – is that enough?

No, of course it’s not, and they are coming on stream, but let’s— Of course, it’s not, but that’s not the figures. We were building 4000 houses a year in Auckland. We’re now building 9500 houses a year. The build rate has more than doubled since we took that special housing area initiative. It is part of the solution, and there’s more to come.

Do you think, Minister, that there should be a clause in that special housing agreement that forces people to build houses within a certain time frame on that land? Do you need that?

Yeah, I have indeed written to some of those special housing areas, to some of those people that have that status on their land, and said, ‘Get on and get your resource consents, your infrastructure, your subdivision progressed, or myself and the council withdraw that special housing area status.’ But, actually, you cannot physically force a landowner to bring their land on supply. The best way of which we can get pace is actually creating competition in that market by removing those very crude metropolitan urban limits that have allowed the land bankers to be able to have monopoly rights and be able to exploit that market advantage and drive those section prices so high. It’s actually by freeing up those measures that we are going to get the long-term solution for housing in Auckland.

Read more: http://www.newshub.co.nz/tvshows/thenation/transcript-housing-minister-nick-smith-2016051413#ixzz48epGESEd